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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

Belief Is About Showing Up

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scripture: Luke 24:36b-48

At our Bible Study—I know I start a lot of sermons like this! But the thing is, our Bible Study is awesome and gets me thinking about the scriptures in so many different ways than I could on my own, so the people there are always inspiring my preaching. Anyways! At our Bible Study last Tuesday, we were discussing this gospel, and one person asked something like, “Why does it matter if Jesus was physically, bodily resurrected?”

After all, this gospel goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Jesus has been, in fact, physically resurrected. It’s not just his spirit or essence that appears. “Touch me and see,” Jesus says to the incredulous disciples. “I swear I’m not a ghost.” And then to prove it, he asks for something to eat, and the disciples give him broiled fish. He took it, we’re told, and ate in their presence. Do ghosts eat broiled fish?

So back to the Bible Study question: Why does it matter that Jesus was physically, bodily resurrected? This person was asking me, and honestly, I answered in a bit of an offhand way. Not because I didn’t care about the question. It’s just, I’d never really thought about it before. It hasn’t been central to my faith that Jesus was bodily resurrected. The very act of coming back from the dead was kind of always enough for me. I hadn’t really reflected on the details.

So I answered their question with another question, “Does it matter to you whether or not Jesus was bodily resurrected?”

“Not really,” the person answered. “It just seems like it’s a big deal here, in this gospel.”

We didn’t dwell too much longer on the matter of physical resurrection, but I found that the question stayed with me throughout the week. The gospel DOES make a big deal of it. Why?

So I started my normal reading and research for my sermon, and I found an answer: In one of the commentaries, Biblical scholar Stephen A. Cooper writes, “To insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.”

I know that’s a very long sentence, so I’m going to say it again, and then I’m going to leave you hanging for a bit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:

“To insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.”

The day after the Bible Study, I met with Shelley Denison at a coffee shop. She wants to be confirmed this fall, so in preparation we meet regularly to discuss her faith and The Episcopal Church. As soon as I sat down, she immediately asked, “So, what does belief mean?”

And can I just step to the side for just a moment and say, I LOVE my job. One day I get to spend my time talking about the significance of physical resurrection, and the next I get to talk about the nature of belief? That’s what I do for work! How amazing is that?

Shelley has been pretty public about being raised as a sixth-generation Mormon. I’ve been pretty public about being raised in a very conservative fundamentalist evangelical church. So we talked a bit about what we’d each been taught about belief, which between the two of us were pretty similar.

We both were taught that belief constitutes acknowledging certain things as the absolute and only truth.

Both Shelley and I were taught that Mary was visited by an angel who revealed to her that she would give birth to the son of God, the Messiah.

Shelley was taught that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel who revealed to him a new testament of the Bible, the Book of Mormon.

I was taught that “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Romans 10:9. Being saved, I was taught to believe, meant literally saying out loud that Jesus is lord and believing in my heart that he was resurrected. That was it. That’s what an altar call was. Saying words and having a sense of a certain truth in my heart.

Shelley and I both agreed that these ways of believing aren’t all that satisfying. At least not to us, not anymore.

We live in a country where many people claim that we have Christian beliefs. “The Bible says…” we hear all the time. What I heard in Acts last week was: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

What I hear Jesus saying in Matthew is, “whatever you did or did not do to the least of these, you did or did or did not do to me.”

And yet, I see people living in tents along the highways. I see our government legislating the vilification and condemnation of people addicted to drugs. I see our trans siblings fearing to be who they are in public for fear of violence against them.

Resources are not distributed as each has need, as the Bible says. Our society creates an entire caste of the “least of these” and then works as hard as possible to keep them out of our sight, through threats of violence, legislation, or both. Which is to work as hard as possible to keep Jesus out of our sight.

Saying words and having a sense of truth in our hearts is not enough. Belief is about what we do.

That’s what I think Stephen A. Cooper means when he writes: “To insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.”

Bodily resurrection shows us that materiality, flesh, the stuff of this world right now matters to God. It matters so much that God raised Jesus from the dead not just in spirit but in his skin, his organs, his fingernails, his teeth, his wounds. No, God didn’t “fix” Jesus before sending him back into the world. Instead, through Jesus God shows us that our suffering can be transformed. This present reality, this hurt, this struggle, right now in this world, as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.

Belief is about what we do with these bodies in this material world.

When you really think about it, one of the more amusing parts of this whole resurrection story is how surprised the disciples are when Jesus returns. Because before he is crucified, Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms that he will come back. He tells them once in Luke, and he tells them three different times in both Mark and Matthew. Jesus doesn’t make a secret of his impending resurrection, and yet the disciples are startled and terrified when he makes good on his promise.

Now I don’t want to underplay how astonishing it must have been to see the physical return of a man who they witnessed dying on a cross. But at the same time, this is a man the disciples also saw feed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. A man they saw removing blindness and curing leprosy. A man they saw bring Lazarus back from the dead.

Jesus had demonstrated over and over and over that he will show up in this material world, with all his gifts, to care for people. To heal people.

Jesus is risen, just as he promised, we sang at the gospel reading. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what love looks like.

We often make love out to be this mystical, ethereal magical thing. A fluttering in our chest, a warmth in our body. But, like belief, love is ultimately a practice. Like belief, love is about what we do with our bodies. It’s about showing up when we say we’ll show up. Doing what we say we’ll do.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what a committed relationship, a deep friendship looks like? Isn’t that what a solid community is built on?

Everything we do at St. Luke’s is built on each of you showing up with all your gifts, to care and to heal. To brew the coffee and set out the treats for Coffee Hour, which is the main time when we really get the chance to know one another. To tend to our grounds so that they’re inviting for our larger community. To keep track of our finances to make sure that our community is stewarding its resources faithfully. To hold and execute the gospel vision of St. Luke’s—which is what each of our Vestry leaders do in so many different ways.

It requires showing up for meetings, showing up with pruners and spades, showing up embodying all of who you are—in this flesh, in this moment.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,” Jesus says to his disciples in today’s gospel, “that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Resurrection, Jesus says, is simply showing up in an embodied way when you say you will. Or, as Stephen A. Cooper wrote, “that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.”

So, all that to say: I’ve been converted. I now understand how important it is that Jesus showed up for the disciples in the way he did. If Jesus hadn’t shown up physically, bodily, when he said he would, we wouldn’t know how important it is that we show up in this material world, in this reality, when we say we will.

Transformations of ultimate significance can’t happen if we don’t show up. Amen.

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